Ohio doctors, health officials monitor highly-transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant

Stealth omicron
Posted at 5:14 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 20:44:43-04

SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — As mask mandates and other COVID-19 safety protocols continue to be lifted statewide and across the country, health officials are keeping a close eye on the latest variant. Omicron BA.2, a subvariant of the original Omicron BA.1 variant, is quickly spreading worldwide and causing case counts to rise in parts of Europe and Asia.

Experts say BA. 2 is about 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1. Data from the CDC shows it's quickly becoming a variant of concern in the U.S. too, accounting for about 35% of new infections for the week ending March 19.

“I don't know if it's of the same level after having gone through BA.1,” said Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.

Skoda said mutation makes this variant more contagious, but right now, she and other health officials aren’t that worried about a surge with case counts nationwide at very low levels.

“Omicron BA.1 ripped through here and went up and down. You know, it's been everywhere. So I feel like between that and vaccination, we probably have some good immunity to the BA.2 causing severe illness,” said Skoda. “Because we're really worried that it'll cause severe illness or increased deaths again, but also overwhelm the hospital systems. And it's not good to overwhelm the hospital systems, ever.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. will likely face an uptick in cases like the United Kingdom where BA.2. has become the dominant strain, but not a surge. The U.K. has also relaxed some restrictions like indoor masking like many parts of the U.S.

“Cases remain very low in the US, which may be part of why people don't appear is concerned about this as they have about other variants. That lack of concern, if it's well-founded, won't cause any harm at all, but the loosening of restrictions and lack of concern, if in fact, this becomes a new surge, will make it that much more difficult to deal with that surge,” said Dr. Scott Frank, the Director of Public Health Initiatives in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Frank said while COVID-18 case counts are low, that could be because people aren’t reporting their positive home tests. There’s also Ohio's vaccination rate to consider, which at 58% is at the lower end nationwide.

“We're under-vaccinated for the primary series, we are under-vaccinated for the booster, and certain populations are more under-vaccinated than others,” said Frank.

That’s significant because both Frank and Skoda said being fully vaccinated, which includes a booster, is the best way for people to protect themselves and others against BA.2. They’re also encouraging people at high risk to continue masking up and hoping this current calm isn’t like the one before the Delta and Omicron surge.

“In July of last year, we were like, right at the low and then boom, Delta hit and then boom Omicron,” said Skoda. “We're hopeful this year again, but a little wiser.”

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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